Swedish court backs TV license fees for computers, mobile devices

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - A Swedish court on Monday ruled that the state broadcaster could charge a fee for accessing television via the Internet on laptops, tablets, smartphones and other devices.

Sweden has for decades had a mandatory television license fee, now 173 crowns ($25.90) a month, to pay for public service broadcasting in a similar system to that of the Britain’s BBC.

But with more viewers watching Internet-streamed television content, supplied by the likes of Netflix and Sweden’s own public service broadcaster, the agency collecting fees earlier this year began charging them as well.

The move sparked a backlash on social networks such as Twitter as well as a debate in local media about the viability of the entire license system.

An administrative court in Lulea, in the far north of Sweden, has been processing hundreds of appeals against the fees and in its first rulings published it dismissed about 20 of them filed by computer owners.

The court said in a statement that the definition of what constituted a television receiver should apply regardless of the specific technology used to view the content and that it should move in step with technological developments.

“Even if a computer is primarily used for other purposes, one of its uses these days is to receive TV programs,” the court said on its website.

“Since it is the ownership of the equipment that is subject to a fee, it is of no significance to that liability whether the person maybe does not use the computer to watch TV programs.”

Victoria Backstrom, an official at the Lulea court, said the court was still processing about 200 appeals and that it would rule on them as soon as possible. The rulings published on Monday might also be appealed, the court said.

Britain charges a license fee to watch or record television live on any Internet-connected devices. ($1 = 6.6804 Swedish crowns)

Reporting by Niklas Pollard; Editing by Alistair Scrutton and Louise Ireland